This week, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad issued executive order 70, rescinding former Governor Tom Vilsack’s 2005 order that automatically restored voting rights to felons who had served their jail time. Since Governor Vilsack’s executive order was enacted, an estimated 100,000 Iowa ex-felons have had their voting rights restored.
However, under Governor Branstad, felons will once again be required to petition the governor individually to have their voting rights restored. He said, “That means not only serving the time, but paying the fine, the court costs and the restitution to the victim.”
The Iowa chapter of the NAACP responded, stating that the requirement was “reminiscent of Jim Crow-era laws that discourage blacks from voting,” and likened it to a poll tax. In Iowa, African-Americans make up only 2.8% of the state’s population, but account for almost 25% of its prison population.
The Sentencing Project has found that in the last 13 years, 23 states have given convicted felons increased voting rights, adding 800,000 former felons to voter rolls. And in 2010 the New York Times editorialized that “Their Debt is Paid.” Regrettably, this move by Iowa’s new governor is a step in the wrong direction.